The Lord’s Preparation of a Heart of Stone
I will remove from them their heart of stone and
give them a heart of flesh.
Growing up my family never went to church; I had no concept of who God was or who Jesus was. If you would have asked me I would have said I believe there is a God and that I was probably going to heaven because I was a good person. My focus in life was completely self centered, my goals were of worldly ambition; to have a good job that allowed us to live comfortably; to have a big house with land where I could be left alone to do what I wanted; a wife that loved me (did you catch that? Not for me to love but that loved me); and children that always behaved, especially in public, and would go on in life to make me proud.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that God started to pursue me in a way that I recognized His presence. Pastor Dennis Beaver was instrumental in me coming to Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Dennis just simply loved Ang and I as we were; he answered all our questions without judgment and demonstrated the love of Christ in a tangible way. I came to Christ over a period of time during which God put a desire in my heart to know Him through His Word. As I read and prayed I came to a place where I had to make a decision that God was either who He said He was and I needed Him in my life or He was liar and had fooled people for centuries. I chose to seek the love offered by Jesus Christ as savior and have been a changed man ever since. God has continually reminded me how important it is to be in the Word and each new day starts with me in the scriptures with thanksgiving and prayer. Psalm 5:3 “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” I am convinced that you absolutely cannot know the will of God without knowing the Word of God.
So what was my heart of stone as the title suggests and what was the Lord preparing me for? My heart of stone was for more children; Ang and I were richly blessed with Cole and Julia and I had no desire to have more children, but God had other plans. God was preparing to give me a heart of flesh for the orphan, for those who cannot speak for themselves. My plan was for Ang and I to raise Cole and Julia, retire to our home on 11 acres, and live happily ever after. God’s plan, however, was nothing like my plan and He began to reveal that plan to Ang and I. God started by making sure I knew He was in charge. In Job chapters 38-41 God answers Job; He starts by asking Job in vs. 2 “Who is this that darkens my council with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me.” We are all going to stand before God someday and give an account; these words spoken to Job were a real eye opener for me. I cannot even fathom being told by the God of the universe to brace myself because He was going to question me. In the following verses God questions Job about who formed the earth, the heavens and natural events, things that no human can possibly know or pretend to know; these chapters are very humbling to the proud…very humbling to me. My perspective of who God is was changing into a complete reverence for Him and making Him not only savior but Lord of my life.
In November of 2007 God began to reveal more of His plan for Ang and I. God had given Ang a vision and she was praying about how to share it with me. God’s timing is always perfect and He arranged time for Ang and I to be alone together to talk. Ang shared with me that during her prayer time God had given her a vision of a little boy named Gabriel and believed he was somewhere in an orphanage in Guatemala and there was someone named Ana but she was not sure who she was and asked if I would pray about adoption. Now up to this point God had me reading the books of the prophets, all of them one after the other, and in those books many times the prophets were given visions to share with the people of Israel and they would not listen, the prophets would cry out about turning back to the Lord and listening to what He was telling them but they were too self absorbed to listen and they had to suffer the consequences of their actions. So after reading these books how could I possibly say that I would not pray about adoption? Of course I told Ang I would pray about adopting Gabriel. After Ang shared the vision God gave her she went on an internet search for Gabriel and after a very short time she was lead to an orphanage called Casa Bernabe but saw no children with the name Gabriel staying there. There were people from PA on the board for Casa Bernabe so she contacted them for information about the orphanage. She knew from her vision that Gabriel was somewhere with angel in the name and when she shared her story with the man on the board he shared that there was indeed a Gabriel staying at the orphanage and he was housed in la Casa de los Angelitos (the house of little angels) which was where the infants stayed. At that point we thought it was God’s plan for us to adopt Gabriel and we started filling out the paperwork and going through the process to adopt him. Adoptions however were closed between the United States and Guatemala but we know we have a God that is bigger than any government and if Gabriel was to be part of our family God could make it happen. We continued to pray and were preparing our hearts for the adoption. During the process we received a devotional from Showhannah’s Hope about orphans and adoptions and were going through the devotional daily. One of the daily devotions was to pray for the restoration of the natural family, that God’s first plan is for children to be with their biological parents and we began to pray that for Gabriel, never thinking that was possible because God was preparing us to adopt him. It was not very long after going through that devotional that Ang received an email that Gabriel had gone back to his natural mother; I will never forget looking over at Ang when she read the email, I was on the couch and saw he face go blank and tears come to her eyes; I knew instantly what had happened without her saying a word. I stopped immediately and prayed and somehow managed to keep it together for the rest of the evening with Cole and Julia. When I went to bed I wept. I could not believe God would bring us this far into the process to take Gabriel from us; I prayed and argued with God, I was very angry at God but after a short period of time He reminded me of the story of Jacob in Genesis chapter 32 vs 22-31 where Jacob wrested with God, much the same way I was wrestling with God that night. He let me know it was okay to wrestle and question Him but to trust him in the end. I discovered that night when you wrestle with God you will always walk away with something. Jacob walked away with a permanent limp and I have walked away with a heart for the orphan.
Ang and I continued to pray about adoption and came to realize Gabriel was just a messenger sent by God to prepare our hearts for something more than I would have ever guessed or believed, much like he sent the Angel Gabriel to Mary in Luke chapter 1 vs 26-38. The Angel revealed to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, and our little angel Gabriel helped to reveal to us that God had a plan for our family. We began to ask the Lord where we were to adopt our child. Now if I would have been told that I would be adopting two black children from Ethiopia I would have said you were crazy. But the Lord continued to soften my heart and in the winter of 2008 the Watoto Children’s Choir came to the area and we volunteered to host some of the children. The choir is made up of orphans from the African nation of Uganda and two boys, Fred and Davis, and one adult, Brian, stayed with us after their performance on a Saturday night. We spent the night with our children playing with the boys in our basement and Ang and I talking and singing worship songs with Brian. In a few short hours the Lord had knit our hearts to the orphans of Africa. A lot of countries were considered but it became clear we were to adopt from Ethiopia. At this point we were still only thinking that a little boy would be joining our family but the Lord again spoke to Ang during prayer and asked her to pray about adopting two children. Ang again came to me and asked me to pray. This is one of the few times I knew before Ang what we were to do, the Lord answered me during prayer that He has given us the means to adopt two and that is what we decided to do.
Throughout the adoption process God continued to soften my heart for orphans everywhere and in July of 2009 Ang and I went to Guatemala on a mission trip to Casa Bernabe, the same orphanage Gabriel had stayed in. We spent a week working at the orphanage gardening, painting, and most of all caring for the orphans, or so we thought. What was actually happening was that the orphans were continuing to open my heart to caring for orphans in some way for the rest of my life. These children all had a story that would break your hearts or they would not be there; but these children showed so much joy and love in their smiles and hugs. A joy that overshadowed their circumstances, if they focused on their circumstances what did they have? They were parentless and living in a strange place all of them with a story of how they got there. But their joy came from the Lord, this was a place where the people serving did so because God called them there. They were loving these children and caring for them the way James calls us all to in chapter 1 verse 27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Through this short week in Guatemala God had showed me that an orphanage does not have to be a place of horror like we so often hear about, and yes those places do exist, but it can be a place of love and care for those who need it. It would have been very difficult for me to travel to the Tokul orphanage in Ethiopia where we picked up Ana and Gabriel without first seeing Casa Bernabe. We could see that the people in Ethiopia loved the children they were caring for; they loved Ana and Gabriel very much.
It was about this time the Lord also began revealing to us that all we had was His and would we trust Him to give it back to Him? As we prayed about adoption the Lord was also revealing to us that we were to be debt free and He would provide all we needed financially for the adoption. During prayer proverbs 22:7 “the borrower is slave to the lender” and Matthew 6:24 “you cannot serve both God and money” kept coming back to us both during devotional time and throughout the day; pastors we listen to on the radio would preach on it, and every other way you can imagine it would come up. Through much prayer it became evident we were to sell our home. This was the home we dreamed about; it was in the middle of eleven acres, we had our own pond to fish in, we would watch wildlife around the house, and watch spectacular sunsets from our patio. It took a little while for God to convince us that this is what we were to do but we put our house up for sale and started looking for another place to live. During this time God had to purge me of many things I thought I needed in a house; I told God I would sell the house but I brought a laundry list of items to Him I would need in the new house. Things like an attached garage, one story, no oil furnace, central air; none of which are in the house we bought. The Lord also began to provide the finances needed for the adoption. If anyone would have asked me before we started if we would be able to spend $30,000 on an adoption without borrowing any money I would have said absolutely not, but that is exactly what happened. Malachi 3:10 says “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there might be food in my house. “Test me in this” says the Lord almighty. “and see if I will open the floodgate of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Ang and I had saved some money but nowhere near that much, but God continually provided. When God calls you to something He will provide the means to make it happen if you are willing to do your part and trust Him. In 2 kings 4:1-7 is the story of the widow’s oil. She went to Elisha asking for help because creditors were coming to take her sons to pay off their debt. All she had left were her two sons and a little oil. Elisha told her to go to her neighbors and collect empty jars and begin to pour her oil into the empty jars. The oil continued to flow until all the jars were filled; she sold the jars of oil to pay off her debt and to continue to live on. This story shows that you must not only trust God to provide, but you have a part to do. You cannot just think God will do it all and you can just sit back and wait on Him. While God could do that most times He gives us our part to do; the widow needed to work and go get the jars to be filled, she could have thought it a waste of time because she was not told ahead of time what was going to happen when she collected the jars. She had to trust that this was part of God’s solution to her problem. We had our part as well in the adoption process; we needed to continue to attend classes both in Williamsport and on the internet, continue filling out the mountains of paperwork and continue to rely on God’s provision. People came along side of us each step of the way. Each time we had to write a check for something the money was in our account. We had an 80’s for orphans party with about 100 people coming and raised over $3,000. We had an uncle stop us after a family meal and give us $1,000. People would give us cards with money in the card saying they just wanted to help. It was a humbling experience watching and allowing God to care for us and provide for us like that. God does not force us into anything, He invites us in to communion with Him and pours out His blessing all the while. Jesus said “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and him with me.”Rev 3:20
Finally on October 26th of 2009 we received our adoption referral that Ana (Feven) and Gabriel (Kibrom) were to be part of our family. We were told by the adoption agency after completing all of our training and submitting our mountain of paperwork they would not call again until we had our referral. They did not want us to think each time they called “is this the call?” They had all of Ang’s contact information home phone, cell phone, work phone, smoke signals, they had everything they could possibly need to get a hold of her when the call was to come and what happened? They could not get a hold of her. She was teaching at the time in the Lewisburg school district and was in the computer lab, the one place they could not get in contact with her. So they found a cell phone number for me in the paperwork and called me on the Golf Course. When our agency called she said this is Carrie from Dove Adoptions and I knew immediately what that meant but I kept asking her “what does this mean Carrie?” She said she was looking at two beautiful babies and would send me pictures and medical information via email. As the whirl wind of emotions started in my heart and head I knew I had to go tell Ang at the school. I took off on my golf cart to find a coworker to finish what I was doing and became overwhelmed with emotion, people on that golf course had to think I was nuts. I started to cry and had to stop driving for fear I would crash my golf cart, and how in the world would I explain that? I prayed and thanked God, gathered my emotions, found my coworker John and asked him to finish what I was doing, how he understood me I have no idea, I had to sound like a maniac, and left to share with Ang what God had done. When I got to the school and computer lab Ang knew exactly why I was there. Another teacher covered for Ang and we went back to her classroom to look at the pictures filled with joy and excitement. We were able to share our good news with some of Ang’s coworkers and if you want to see something amazing, wow! When we poked our head in the classrooms or motioned through the doors for them to come and see the pictures we literally had pregnant teachers hurdling desks to come and share in our joy.
After two years it was time to bring Ana and Gabriel home. We had our travel date for January 29th 2010 and would hopefully get to meet the babies on Sunday January 31st. But God was not finished providing for this adoption. We have two very good friends, Rick and Cindy Erdley, who offered to go with us to bring Ana and Gabriel home. They offered, no strings attached, to do whatever we might need as we traveled to Ethiopia and home. It was very humbling to be loved in that way; I have never experienced the love of Jesus like that outside of marriage. Rick and Cindy are experienced travelers flying overseas before which helped us tremendously to navigate the airports. They held babies, changed diapers, carried luggage, they simply served in any way they could and it was truly a blessing to have them with us. And on the flight home Ang got sick on the runway in Ethiopia and was sick for about 17 of the 18 hour flight, that is where Rick and Cindy shined. I took care of Gabriel and Cindy took care of Ana while Ang was sick. I cannot imagine having to take care of both babies alone on an 18 hour flight.
So where do we go from here? James 1:27 states “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This tells us that it is our responsibility to take care of orphans and widows; what that looks like for you will be different than what it looks like for me and my family. Adoption is not for everyone but there are things you can do. Financially help by sponsoring orphans, supporting missions, come along side of families who have adopted and make them meals, clean their homes, wash their clothes, in short be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Amen.
|Daddy's Heart~Stolen by his 13 Pound, Little Girl|
|The day we left for Ethiopia. It was VERY hard to leave Cole and Julia.|
Reluctant Daddy? I don't think so.
Seeing Ana and Gabriel for the very first time
Daddy and little girl
How could we not? To think we could have missed this.
We visited Ana and Gabriel for a few days, leaving them at the end of the day. Not this day...Signing Ana and Gabriel out of the orphanage FOREVER
Daddy and Gabriel at the YGF Guesthouse
Daddy and Gabriel~Leaving the orphanage
Our Guide, Driver, Ephraim on the day we left the orphanage
Very proud big brother and sister
Families are created by God, through many different ways, through His creative and perfect design. Not without suffering: remembering the loss for both Ana and Gabriel and their birth parents, honoring the country and people of Ethiopia, believing in God's good and perfect will.